Apple employees reportedly join backlash over CSAM photo scanning

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Some inside Apple aren't happy with the move.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Apple employees have begun voicing their concerns over the company’s plan to scan user photos for child abuse material (CSAM), according to a new report. Many are said to have taken to internal Slack channels to express worries over how the feature could be exploited by governments.

“More than 800 messages” have been shared on one channel during a “days-long” discussion about the move. It comes after a number of privacy advocates this week spoke out against Apple’s announcement, calling it mass surveillance and warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

In case you missed it, Apple last week confirmed a number of new child safety features that will roll out later this year, including a feature that looks for sexually explicit images in the Messages app, and another that scans user iCloud Photo libraries to find CSAM content.

Apple later published a lengthy FAQ document to clear up confusion surrounding both features. In it, the company insists it will not bow to government pressure to expand the feature later. But this has done little to ease concerns over what photo scanning might lead to.

And it’s not just users and privacy advocates who aren’t happy with the plan. Apple employees are also said to be voicing their apprehension internally.

Not all Apple employees support CSAM plan

“Apple employees have flooded an Apple internal Slack channel with more than 800 messages on the plan announced a week ago,” reports Reuters. “Many expressed worries that the feature could be exploited by repressive governments looking to find other material for censorship or arrests.”

Some are said to be concerned that the plan damages Apple’s reputation for protecting user privacy. However, others have pushed back against the criticism and called CSAM photo scanning a reasonable response to the pressure Apple is under to crack down on illegal material.

The concerns are said to be coming from those outside of core privacy and security roles. The report cites a number of Apple employees, who asked not to be named for obvious reasons. But it doesn’t offer an indication of how many employees are against the move.

Privacy advocates speak out

Whistleblower Edward Snowden and privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) were quick to speak out against Apple’s plan. They call it mass surveillance, and warn that, despite Apple’s assurances, there is a chance the feature will later be expanded to look for other material.

“All it would take to widen the narrow backdoor that Apple is building is an expansion of the machine learning parameters to look for additional types of content, or a tweak of the configuration flags to scan, not just children’s, but anyone’s accounts,” read a statement from the EFF.

“That’s not a slippery slope; that’s a fully built system just waiting for external pressure to make the slightest change.”

Many are worried that Apple will find it incredibly difficult to resist pressure from nations like China, which has become an increasingly important market for the company in recent years, if they push for wider surveillance.